As a physician, you emphasize the importance of the patient's narrative in medicine? Please explain.
Patient narratives are simply their stories, or what’s important to them in the context of their illness. As physicians, we sometimes forget the rich life experience that individuals have before entering the illness experience. If we practice narrative medicine, we strive to understand the patient’s story, so that we might optimize care.
What does the "A" stand for in A. Scott Pearson?
A stands for Adrian, my grandfather’s name. I used to get that quote from Rocky a lot. “Yo, Adrian!”
For PUBLIC ANATOMY
Tell us a little about yourself, how and when you started writing.
I started writing eleven years ago, soon after I finished surgical fellowship.
What inspired you to write your novel?
I began to write as a way to confront the challenges of today’s medicine. It was not so much a conscious effort to write a novel. But then the character Eli Branch came along and I could give these problems to him. And my first novel, RUPTURE, took off.
How did you use your life experience or professional background to enrich your story?
A life in medicine is filled with rich experience. Sometimes the stories and the people in them are crazy and out-of-control – great stuff for writing fiction.
There are certain themes that appear in my writing. It is not my intention to include these themes but they appear nonetheless, so they must be important to me in some way. One theme in PUBLIC ANATOMY stems from my concern that today’s medicine is becoming hands-off and impersonal. I still believe that patients want and need the touch of another human being.
Anything autobiographical in your novel?
My series character is a surgeon, like myself. All authors, to some extent, write from experience, so some of me sneaks in there, I guess. Other than that, there is nothing autobiographical.
Are any characters based on people you know?
I use characters and interesting traits from people I’ve known, both within and outside of medicine, but no character is based on an individual.
Would you say that your novel is more plot driven or character driven?
I’d say more plot driven, most mysteries and thrillers are. However, it is the character of Eli Branch and Meg Daily and others that I hope continue to bring readers back to the series.
Who is your favorite or most sympathetic character? And why?
I really enjoy writing the character of Nate Lipsky, the Memphis police detective. He’s had a hard life, estranged from his wife and son, but he still maintains a sense of humor, even in the face of some serious human pathology.
Who is your least sympathetic character? And why?
I can’t reveal that character without spoiling the mystery of Public Anatomy.
What part of writing your book did you find the most challenging?
Public Anatomy has a significant historical context to the plot that involves the quest for knowledge of human anatomy during the Renaissance. Weaving the historical detail into the present day was challenging - but most rewarding.
What do you hope that readers will take away from your book?
First, I hope that readers will be entertained. That should be the goal for any novel and there’s a lot of competition out there these days for entertainment. I also hope that readers appreciate the history of our current understanding of anatomy and medicine – and that maybe we could be benefit by holding on to the ideals of earlier times.
How do you dial up the tension to keep your readers on the edge of their seats?
I like to create the sense that something bad is going to happen, then delay it a bit, while the anticipation builds.
What writers have inspired you?
There are several. My two favorite reads of late have been the big, thick novels of David Wroblewski and Abraham Verghese.
What is the writing process like for you?
Coffee. Pen. Paper.
Scratch. Claw. Edit.
What is the best piece of advice about writing that you’ve ever received?
Put butt in chair and write.
What’s next for you? Any new books in the pipeline?
I’m always working on the next Eli Branch novel - and I’ve got a more literary novel that is ripening before I stick a knife in and bust it open.
Are any of the characters in Rupture based on people you know?
There is one character, Vera Tuck, who is based loosely on a psychiatric patient I knew in medical school. She would blurt out obscenities and then turn around and charm your socks off. She was a dear lady.
How are you most similar to your novel’s protagonist, Eli Branch? How are you least similar?
We’re both surgeons who believe that our patients can benefit from scientific research. But Eli’s just now getting a healthy dose of skepticism about the business of medicine. I’ve already got that. Plus, he’s ten years younger, not married, and has no family other than his disabled brother who he takes care of. He’s bigger than I am and better looking.
What do you think is Eli’s biggest strength? Weakness?
Eli is smart and strong. But he’s got a sensitive side and he’s a bit naïve.
Who is your favorite character in the novel, and why?
Besides Eli, I would have to say Nate Lipsky. He’s a short, stocky detective whose bark is bigger than his bite. I like his sense of humor. He comes across as incompetent but he always seems to get his man.
Do you have a least favorite character and if so, who?
I know a few surgeons like Korinsky. Arrogant, only cares about himself, and money.
Why did you choose Memphis as the setting of Rupture?
I love writing about Memphis. The city has a certain edge to it, a sense of angst always simmering and ready to blow. Memphis is a river town whose people have a lot of passion and heart. Ripe for fiction. I like to think of Memphis as a main character in my novels.
How does your work as a scientist impact your writing?
I try to weave a scientific element into my novels but only if it impacts the personal element. It nearly always does.
Are there similarities between being a surgeon and writing a novel, and if yes, how so?
Both require a life of discipline. A good surgeon is both craftsman and artist, as is a novelist. Most people are surprised when I say becoming a novelist can be harder than becoming a surgeon.
Who influences your writing?
My patients have a big influence on my writing. Those who are sick and vulnerable but who face each day with faith and bravery. The patient’s narrative is very important to me as a physician. As for writers: John Grisham for his sense of place and for championing the common man. Joshilyn Jackson from Georgia who writes so well she makes me sick. There’s Sue Monk Kidd and Tony Earley. As a boy, I got lost in Tolkien’s world long before his writing was trendy.
What was the most difficult part of writing Rupture?
Finding time to write is always a challenge. I try to get something down each day, even if just a paragraph. Eventually the paragraphs add up. Problem is they don’t always fit.
In many ways, Rupture is an incredibly frightening novel. How do you, as a novelist, process this aspect of the narrative?
It’s my experience that the medical profession still finds a way to avoid full disclosure to patients and society. That creates an infraction that drives my writing.
What was your reasoning in depicting such a dark side of modern medicine in your novel?
Some aspects of today’s medicine scare me. The technology is so powerful. Sometimes that power doesn’t fit with the complexity of the human body. What may not be noticeable day to day, a novel allows you to compress and intensify.
Aside from the novel, do you think there is a downside to the level of sophistication in medicine today?
I think that the technology available to patients today is amazing. But we as physicians have to know when to contain it. If you take your car in for repairs, that’s exactly what you get. The medical profession can always intervene with tests and fancy procedures. Sometimes, however, that intervention is worse than the disease. But it’s against our culture to acknowledge that.
What is your hope for Rupture?
My hope for the novel is simply that it entertains readers. And that those readers pass it on by word of mouth. If somebody learns something along the way, so be it.
What’s next for A. Scott Pearson?
A lot of trouble for Eli Branch. This time it’s female trouble, from the days when he was an intern.